In the last five days, an Audi, a Range Rover and a BMW have mowed down more than five people in accidents across the NCR. Predictably, the drivers of these massive luxury cars survived, cocooned in those formidable layers of steel. The victims, one of whom was an Uber driver on his first day at work, all died instantly. A dozen families’ futures have altered irrevocably, including of the culprits behind the wheel who will have to live with the fact that their unthinking negligence could shockingly enough, turn them into convicted felons.
Statistically, every Indian has a one in six chance to meet with a fatal road accident. It is a lamentable but acceptable statistic of modern living here. I remember a road journey on the Grand Trunk Road as a child in the 1980s. Those days there was a two lane highway and two parallel white lines that served as a divider. At night, the highway was black with blinding headlights whizzing past. It felt like a frightening and dangerous roller coaster with no seat belts or safety nets. Trucks, buses, bullock carts and cars hurtled around madly, zigzagging across each other.
There was a silver Maruti 800 that kept pace with us for a couple of hours with a young girl in a pink chunni sitting in the rear. It overtook us. Half an hour later the highway was blocked by crowds. In the distance we could see the flattened remains of what was a silver car, which had collided head on with a truck, with pools of dark liquid flowing everywhere. The things we see, that can’t be unseen. No one intends for tragedies like this to happen, but they do. Again, and again, and again.
It takes a tragedy to spawn a solution. In India, several tragedies, before a shake up happens at a macro level. Will three different incidents in a week change anything? In the case of the BMW, the price of a joyride was a human life. Every night drivers like these are out there breaking speeding laws, or driving inebriated, or casually skipping a red light, without a thought to consequences. Since they don’t get caught, it happens again till eventually, they kill. These are all equally terrible offences.
In the US there is a movement to stop calling these incidents accidents, since accident implies it was nobody’s fault. Usually, road fatalities occur because of distracted driving or in other words, human error. In India, it is risky driving combined with a blatant disregard for the rules, and, of course, alcohol. The attitude of Delhiites is they sincerely believe it is entirely alright to drive however you wish, as long as you manage to stay out of trouble. This is such a deeply rooted conviction that when a policeman has the temerity to pull an offender over, they react with aggression and argue, instead of meekly paying the fine and moving on.
Delhi, particularly, has among the deadliest roads in the world, both, for pedestrians and vehicle owners. The cab revolution has suddenly thrust 15,000 more cars on the road. The credentials of the drivers are questionable, many of them lacking in basic road etiquette, like using indicators. They know the routes only through GPS and often swerve left or right, last minute, without warning. Driving has become almost terrifying. We desperately need a zero tolerance policy for offenders who need to worry about arrests, fines and convictions. It’s the only way to make sure it won’t be you next time.